Richard Desmond, owner of the Daily Express, moved yesterday to seize control of the printing joint venture he has with the Telegraph newspaper group.
He wrote to the Telegraph Group demanding the right to take over West Ferry Printers, which is 50-50 owned by the Telegraph and Mr Desmond's Express Newspapers.
Mr Desmond took advantage of last month's deal in which Lord Black of Crossharbour sold his controlling interest in the Telegraph's parent company, Hollinger International, to the Barclay brothers. Mr Desmond believes the Hollinger deal has triggered a "change of control clause" which permits him to buy the 50 per cent of the print works that he does not already own.
The Telegraph tried (unsuccessfully) to use the "change of control clause" to take complete ownership of the print site, in London's Docklands, when Mr Desmond bought Express Newspapers in 2000.
Mr Desmond is also interested in acquiring Hollinger's UK newspapers - The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. He is believed to have submitted a bid of about £500m yesterday to Lazards, the investment bank holding an auction of Hollinger's assets. Tomorrow is the deadline for bids. Mr Desmond put his claim over the print works in writing to force the lawyers working for the Telegraph and Hollinger to put on record whether or not there had been a change of control.
No figure was put on the amount he would be willing to pay for the sprawling printing site. But it is believed he would offer considerably less than the £60m the Telegraph bid in 2000, due to depreciation of the printing facilities. The letter demands the Telegraph directors be taken off the board of West Ferry Printers and ownership be handed over to Express Newspapers. A contract would remain in place, however, to oblige West Ferry to continue publishing the Telegraph titles.
An official request is important because, under the West Ferry joint venture agreement, one party has only a 42-day period from the change of control taking place to being able to exercise the right to buy out the other side.
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